Accepting the Recommendations of the University Space Priorities Working Group
Dear Fellow Members of the NYU Community,
I have taken the past couple of days, as I hope many of you have, to read carefully the final report of the University Space Priorities Working Group (there is also an executive summary), and to think about its findings and recommendations.
I have discussed the report with the deans and other members of the senior leadership team, and we are prepared to pass on to the Board with our enthusiastic support all of the report's recommendations and follow the Working Group’s guidance. If, going forward, circumstances or conditions change in a way that called for some modifications to the plan, we would consult with the stewardship committee (the creation of which is also one of the Working Group’s suggestions).
Before I discuss the specifics of the report, I want to note what a commendable effort this was on so many levels, a point I would make regardless of what the final report said. The members of the group -- some of whom were acknowledged skeptics of the University's proposals for the Core, most of whom were faculty, and most of whom live on the superblocks -- took on this assignment at a time of significant fractiousness in our community; that requires great strength of character. They asserted their independence, asking both for existing and new information, sharing it -- along with the proceedings of all their meetings and forums – publicly. They approached this task with great rigor, not seeking simply to modify the University's plans, but instead to develop a set of recommendations based on priorities that emerged out of their own review, analysis and insight. And they put the collective good of the University -- the quality of the education we offer our students, our competitiveness -- at the forefront of their deliberations.
It has provided an important lesson on the value of input by constituent groups -- students, administrators, and especially our faculty -- one I take very much to heart from this experience.
As to the specifics:
The Coles Site Facility
I think it is fair to say that the most prominent issue the Working Group examined was whether and what to build on the site of the Coles Sports Center.
The priorities the Working Group has set for the Coles site, and the recommendations that flow from those -- the increase in classroom space within the building compared to our original plans; the creation of new academic performing arts space; the space for student study; the level of student housing and faculty residences; and the replacement of the outdated Coles Sports Center with a new facility that can also be a place of emergency assembly-- are compelling. The University shall revise its plans to follow its guidance. The Working Group reaffirmed the soundness and the prudence of the University's financial planning, but recommended a higher fundraising target for the facility. We have a record of exceeding our fundraising targets, and so we will ask the Development Office to reevaluate the target we have set.
The group also recommended that the University develop alternatives to fulfill Coles' sports functions while Coles is out of operation. Accordingly, we shall move immediately to establish an advisory committee with representation from the Athletics Department; our student athletes; student, faculty, and administrator users of Coles; and our University-wide governance groups to help develop alternatives for Coles' uses -- home and training facility for our athletic teams; sports, recreation, and fitness center for many in the NYU community – during construction.
How We Move Ahead, and the Establishment of a Superblock Stewardship Committee
Though we and the City have appealed one element of the recent ruling in the lawsuit brought against our plan -- having to do with its determination that some parcels of land around the superblocks are "implied parkland" -- the court’s ruling presented no legal impediment to moving forward with the Coles site project. And, of course, there will be no construction on the North Block before 2022.
But the Working Group's effort has reinforced the importance of consultation in our community and the value of clear and transparent communications. In line with that, one of the report's key recommendations is the establishment of a Superblock Stewardship Committee to provide ongoing guidance as we move forward with new construction. We also accept this recommendation, and we will begin to create such a committee.
In the past few months, we have fulfilled important community commitments we made during the approvals process, such as providing space for a new child care program and providing space for an organization to help the elderly in our neighborhood. We will continue with other promised improvements to the open space areas on the superblocks, with a particular eye toward making improvements outside of the Coles site-related construction to improve the quality of life on the blocks.
I would like to thank all the members of the University Space Priorities Working Group -- faculty, students, and administrators -- and particularly its chair, Professor Ted Magder, and the chairs of its three subcommittees – Professor Allyson Green, Professor Laurence Maslon, and Professor Lawrence White -- for their outstanding work, their hard efforts, their thoughtfulness and wisdom, and their community-mindedness. Each of the members has significant duties, yet they were willing to devote countless additional hours to examine and analyze thoroughly and dispassionately an issue of great importance to our University. They deserve the gratitude of the entire NYU community, both for their work and for the example they set.
From time to time, the University will undertake major strategic efforts or confront strategic challenges. We know that numerous university constituencies care about these matters, even if they are not directly affected. It is my hope, then, that the improvements we have made to our process of consultation through the establishment of structures like the Working Group – and the Faculty Committee on the Global Network, the Faculty Committee on Technology, the Joint Committee of NYU Stakeholders, the proposed Full-time Contract Faculty Council, and the Faculty Common Days meetings, to name some additional examples – will not only continue, but will also continue to yield similarly constructive results.